11/08/2013 4:10PM

Jay Hovdey: Finding the right mix of racing and show


It is never too late to do a Breeders’ Cup post mortem, but the body is getting a little cold. So, before the sport moves on to the wonders of Aqueduct in November and the Last Days of Hollywood Park, here are a few lasting impressions.

◗ The idea of a permanent or semi-permanent home for the Breeders’ Cup has been on the boil for some time. Santa Anita Park – which will host its third in a row in 2014 – is usually at the center of the conversation as traditional venues either disappear (Gulfstream Park, Hollywood Park), become complicated (Churchill Downs), or associated with the consequences of climate change (Belmont Park).

Keith Brackpool, now running Santa Anita for the Stronach Group, has lobbied hard for Santa Anita to be synonymous with Breeders’ Cup, even from the days when he was chairman of the California Horse Racing Board. He admitted, though, that there are concessions required.

“The host track and Breeders’ Cup are effectively partners,” Brackpool said. “But it’s their event, not our event, although on some things you’re a full partner and on some you’re more like a lease-holder.

“Obviously, I only need one guest to have an unfortunate experience with one person who was not familiar with what they should have been familiar with, and that’s going to reflect upon Santa Anita,” Brackpool added. “The flip side is that if something that happens to a ticket-holder reflects is taken to reflect on Breeders’ Cup, perhaps it should have reflected as much on Santa Anita.”

Brackpool’s job now is to tap into whatever positives are derived from Santa Anita’s ongoing Breeders’ Cup connection.

“You can’t have Breeders’ Cup Championship Saturday every Saturday,” he said. “What we have to do is smooth out the peaks and valleys.”

◗ If the Breeders’ Cup is going to continue to bill itself as an international event, why not flaunt it? True, there were a few representations of countries other than the USofA in the Santa Anita décor, and when the foreigners won, and won, and kept on winning a proper post-race big deal was made. But there seemed to be nothing built into the mix.

For instance, what happened to the inspiring introduction of the jockeys at the top of the program that made past Breeders’ Cups so memorable? There was literally nothing quite like the sight in 2001 at Belmont Park of the riders in front of the packed stands, each afforded their individual round of applause while carrying the flags of their own homelands.

◗ The Breeders’ Cup got it wrong in 2012, cordoning off the Santa Anita viewing areas for the saddling paddock and half of the walking ring for a select group of high-end ticket-holders and VIPs.

They got it right this year by shaving that restricted space in half and returning areas of important access to the vast majority of fans who deserve to see their heroes up close. There was still a VIP yard – sparsely populated on Day 1 but busy on Day 2 – to remind everyone that the class system is still alive and well in the Thoroughbred world.

◗ Chrysler, Dodge, Buick, Toyota, Mobil, Sears, Alberto-Culver, Emirates Airlines, NetJets, Sentient, Budweiser – corporate heavyweights, each and every one. They have all spent time as sponsors at various levels of the Breeders’ Cup and its events.

None of them, at least as far as we know, required as payback for the Breeders’ Cup to shift the spotlight away from its prime directive, which was from the very beginning the promotion of Thoroughbred racing to the broader sports public. This changed in 2013 with the presentation of the $150,000 President of the United Arab Emirates Cup Invitational for the Arabian breed at the end of Day 1, at the behest of the Emirates Equestrian Federation, which put up the money.

The extent of the budding relationship between Breeders’ Cup and the EEF has yet to be revealed, and perhaps the shoehorning of another breed into the Breeders’ Cup pageant was a small price to pay for what they got. What the fans got was 11 of the earnest little horses, tails erect, straining to negotiate the challenging Friday main track as twilight fell and strung out over nearly a furlong at the finish. The runaway winner, 7-year-old So Big Is Better, pulled up lame and was vanned off, leaving a sour taste at the end of a day that should have been a celebration of Distaff winner Beholder and the four other winners of Breeders’ Cup events.

Hopefully, Breeders’ Cup management will find another way to satisfy its commitment to this new, promising sponsor/partner in the future without selling off a piece of its signature event. Heck, I’m all for making the Thursday before the Breeders’ Cup an all-breeds showcase day of equestrian delights. Bring on the Arabs, the Appys, the mules, and the Quarter Horses, then set up a few hurdles on the outside of the turf course for those guys as well. Now that would be a day to remember.

Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Why NOT host an event in NOVEMBER in New York? Chicago? Really? Have you ever been to those places in November? Go review the 2007 BC -the turf course was a bog and the main track was a slip and slide. "no good reason"...ha!
Meghan Janusz More than 1 year ago
The VIP area at the finish line this year is the one thing that bothered me. Hope they do away with it in 2014.
Walter More than 1 year ago
Seems like politics has taken hold of the BC. This is the only explanation of the location choices for the BC. There is no good reason why New York should not host. Same goes for Chicago, Louisville, Lexington, etc.
Tom More than 1 year ago
How about telling those dumb a**es at The Breeders Cup to yank The BC away from NBC and give to a network that actually shows the races. Nobody that I know gets that thing they call NBC Sports on their cable or dish system. This is an insult to all involved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You don't know anyone who has Comcast? It's the largest cable company in the United States....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lol, ok, apparently you don't know anyone who has Comcast... That's why my comment got voted down.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
ESPN, ABC would be better
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
NBC Sports is widely available. I have it, but I much prefer to watch the races online, so I don't have to listen to all the NBC nonsense.
Kram Hslew More than 1 year ago
what an idiotic column.
richasromney More than 1 year ago
Is it just me or is it TOTALLY ridiculous for the form to institute the drf+ subscription. As a dying sport it seems absurd to charge readers extra to view certain articles. The form should be willing to give what few readers there are all the information they desire. Hell, stand on the street corner and yell the news to any one that will listen. Wise up. Keep milking everyone for their last penny and soon you will all be sitting in the newsroom looking at each other. You will be all that is left.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Well i guess what they are telling the general public is .Its the sport of kings and you will pay royally.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita three years in succession is fine with me, but I also believe the BC should adopt a 10 year rotation that puts the event at Churchill for three years, at Belmont for three and the 10th year at a completely different venue, such as Arlington, Woodbine, Del Mar,Monmouth, or even a European track that willingly puts in a dirt surface. . .Having it in a four track rotation---one track for three years, another for three years and still another for three, plus one 'new track' for the final year in the decade - would give each of the primary venues the chance to properly market the event while saving some costs. It also would give serious horseplayers the chance to make valid comparisons from year to year while trainers would be best able to plan their horses' schedules for BC participation. Keeping it at one warm weather venue- would not be a crime against nature--the Derby is at one venue each and every May --but it would defeat the sport's best chance to gain fans in different regions of the country. . .Steve Davidowitz (Not sure why my entry is makrked anonymous here, I signed in properly.)
Jeffrey More than 1 year ago
Why should a European venue willingly put in a dirt surface? They run on synthetics, which makes especially good sense given their cool, wet climate. I'd rather have horses run on an AW surface than a sloppy or muddy dirt track. If we have learned anything from Santa Anita's main track, unfair biases can emerge whether a track is run on dirt or synthetic. Admittedly, it is MORE ideal for North American runners to compete on a traditional dirt surface - all things being equal - but the BC tries to portray itself as an international event. Another issue with a Breeder's Cup held outside the US is our use of game day medication (i.e. Lasix).
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Unfair Bias in any Surface Jeff. You must be talking about Keenland, speed go there to die race after race after race. Now watch somebody comment on Silver Max performance in Off track Shadwell. They have one example
CHris SChott More than 1 year ago
I might question the recurring attendance if the event was held at one track in perpetuity. That being said, I have traveled to Toronto, New Jersey, Louisville and Arcadia for the event and the California is by far MY favorite choice. Perhaps we can see the event at the expanded Del mar in 2015.
will More than 1 year ago
Somewhat off topic...please...please...stop letting NBC host major horse events. My GOD ! did anyone else laugh at the those ridiculous aerial shots of the races? I couldn't believe it. If you were at the races you could watch the feed from Santa Anita, but at home, it was NBC or nothing. NBC does not know horse racing, they turn horse racing into a dram like they would with one of their tv show dramas (go figure). At least this year they kept the camera on the finish line for more then half a second after the winner crossed the line. And what's his face as the host is awful as well, the guy with so much makeup on you wonder if he didn't die years ago and was somehow resurrected for NBC horse racing events....but seriously NBC sucks.
Jack More than 1 year ago
That was Tom Drummond and he did die 11 years ago.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Phillip Drummond died in January. Tom Drummond is still alive. Tom Hammond is the terrible host of NBC Horse Racing. For some reason they kick Laffit off for him. Laffit does a great job for the undercard races, and then they push him to the side. Terrible.
Kyri Freeman More than 1 year ago
I would prefer that the BC circulates, even though Santa Anita is my home track. The track was much more fair this year than last, however. The TV coverage has got to fix its camera angles, whatever the venue. The joy of seeing these races in HD as opposed to the Vaseline-on-the-lens look of HRTV and TVG is lessened by the overhead angles where you can't identify a horse or watch its demeanor -- especially in the Turf Sprint where they were actually hidden by trees for much of the race -- or angles showing the break from behind so all you see is butts!
will More than 1 year ago
exactly exactly exactly....the camera angles were laugable